OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) _ Republican Rep. Ernest Istook, known for pushing prayer in schools and other conservative causes, says Democratic Gov. Brad Henry has led Oklahoma down the wrong path by enacting a lottery and promoting more government.
In an Associated Press Newsmaker Interview, Istook never mentioned his Republican opponents by name and took aim at Henry, whom he called ``lucky'' for serving as governor during a revenue boom caused largely by high energy prices.
He said the lottery and tribal gaming programs backed by Henry are not producing enough money to pay for their social costs. He also said Henry had betrayed the people by getting a $1 tobacco tax passed that mostly benefits tribes who pay at a low tax rate.
While saying Henry wants to ``throw money'' at problems, Istook said he would promote personal responsibility over government programs, which he blamed for creating more social ills than they fix.
Paul Sund, spokesman for Henry, said ``Istook's political rhetoric does not match the public record'' which shows Henry ``has been a strong leader who helped guide Oklahoma out of the worst budget crisis in history and spark a major economic turnaround in the state.''
Sund said Henry had made Oklahoma a national leader in the war on methamphetamine, early childhood education and health insurance assistance for small business. He said Istook is ``obviously frustrated by Henry's success and popularity.''
Istook said he had a far different agenda than Henry, who took office in 2003 and faced a deficit of almost $700 million. The Legislature had a $1 billion surplus this year.
``We never finished the job of welfare reform,'' Istook said of one of his priorities as governor. He suggested time limits that were placed on the Aid to Families with Dependent Children program should also be placed on such things as food stamps, housing subsidies and Medicaid.
He said he favored expansion of faith-based programs, lowering the income tax as much as possible and eliminating the sales tax on groceries and the estate tax.
He said with so many people on the government dole, it has exacerbated the immigration problem by creating a surplus of jobs that serve as a magnet to attract illegal immigrants from Mexico.
Istook, who was elected to Congress in 1992, suggested that despite this year's huge surplus, leaders should have considered cutting waste in some areas, including higher education.
``This is a cultural thing, OK,'' he said. ``Right now, the focus seems to be on throwing money at higher education and removing higher education's responsibility to control its costs. I don't like that.''
Istook also repeated his long-standing opposition to mass transit and rail systems if government is picking up most of the cost of the systems.
The 56-year-old representative from the 5th Congressional District is in a three-way race for the GOP nomination with Tulsa businessman Bob Sullivan and state Sen. James A. Williamson, also of Tulsa.
Istook denied he was ignoring his primary foes, including Sullivan, who has branded Istook as part of the deficit spending problem in Congress.
``I wouldn't call it ignoring people, but I'm running my own race based on what we think is best and proper,'' Istook said.
As far as congressional spending goes, Istook said he has been a prime mover behind a federal budget-balancing amendment, which he called a prerequisite for curbing congressional spending.
``I've got a closet full of awards from pro-taxpayer groups for my discipline on spending policies, tax policies,'' he said.
He said his internal polling showed him far ahead in the race and dismissed a tie vote he had with Sullivan at a recent Republican luncheon attended by party activists in Oklahoma City.
``That vote wasn't taken among the rank-and-file Republicans,'' Istook said. ``That vote was among the people who bought tickets. He (Sullivan) had already bought up a bunch of tickets to the luncheon.''
Sullivan said the Istook campaign ``has clearly had a problem with math lately. The only poll that shows him way ahead of me is the one he paid for. He says he is a conservative, but he continues to oppose capping the growth of state spending through TABOR because since going to Washington he has become addicted to spending and like most career politicians he refuses to stand up against big deficits.''
As governor, Istook said he would use his connections in Washington to get federal waivers to change some state welfare programs.
``I realize that some people don't like the idea of taking an unglamorous job, but it's better than asking the taxpayers to support you, which causes millions of dollars of public assistance as well as billions to deal with illegal immigrants, that want to take the jobs.''
He said he liked the principle of an initiative petition to limit spending to the growth of inflation and population, but was concerned ``that particular version'' might make it more difficult to provide permanent tax relief. The petition is commonly called the taxpayer bill of rights, or TABOR.
Istook said he favored policies to make the private sector grow and would cut government waste.
Keeping with the personal responsibility theme, he said faith-based programs in the past promoted the work ethic and eased social problems better than government has.
``For centuries,'' he said, many of these problems were handled in a better way by faith-based groups. Then government took over. We spent more money on them and the problems worsened rather than improving, because we were no longer trying to help people correct their self-destructive behavior.''
Istook, an attorney, said he was for ``commonsense lawsuit reform'' but did not know that Oklahoma is ``distinctive'' in how many frivolous lawsuits are filed in the state.
In opposing mass transit and rail systems that are heavily subsidized by taxpayers, he said that according to the U.S. Census Bureau, ``most people that we say are living in poverty own their own car.''
``Rail travel will never succeed if people are not willing to pay the cost of their ticket,'' he said. ``The Heartland Flyer depends on 75 to 90 percent of government subsidy for its operation. Now people who want to take the train should be willing to pay for their own ticket. I think that's a pretty solid principle. That's what I believe.''
The Heartland Flyer runs between Oklahoma City and Fort Worth, Tex., and is an Amtrak train. Istook has taken a hard line on Amtrak funding in Congress.